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Can Kipchoge make it two in Tokyo?

Eliud Kipchoge takes his place on a marathon start line this weekend with the history books awaiting his next submission.
 
As we approach the 2024 Tokyo Marathon – the curtain raiser for Series XVI of the Abbott World Marathon Majors – Kipchoge will no doubt be focused on the 26.2 miles ahead of him in the Japanese capital.
 
He has won 11 of the 14 AbbotttWMM races he has started, putting him way out in front of any other man in Majors history. But as he prepares to add a second Tokyo notch to his belt, he would be forgiven for allowing his thoughts to wander ahead into the summer.
 
Kipchoge has chosen to begin his year in the Japanese capital with the March 3 date giving him ample time to recover and prepare for an unprecedented three consecutive Olympic marathon golds this summer.
 
No one has ever won more than two medals in the event at the Games, and only three men – Abebe Bikila (1960 and 1964), Waldemar Cierpinski (1976 and 1980) and Kipchoge (2016 and 2020 [held in 2021]) have done the gold medal double in the distance.
 
By starting his year in Tokyo, rather than returning to London where he has scooped four titles, or Boston where things went wrong for him in 2023, the 39-year-old is giving himself just over five months to prepare for his French adventure and a tilt at immortality.
 
The status of living legend has been resting on the Kenyan’s shoulders for the best part of a decade, since he first occupied the top step of a Majors podium in Chicago.
 
He has chased a sub-two-hour time twice, and was successful in his second attempt in controlled conditions in Vienna in 2019, and he was the first man to break 2:02 in a certified marathon when he shattered the world record for the first time in 2018 in Berlin.
 
He lowered it again four years later, only to see his compatriot Kelvin Kiptum wrench it from his grasp in Chicago last year with that astonishing 2:00:35.
 
Kiptum’s recent tragic death has robbed the sport of the matchup we were all eagerly awaiting at the Olympics this year, and somewhat dulled the anticipation that a sub-two performance in a ratified race was just around the corner.
 
The fall of 2023 suggested a passing of the torch with Kipchoge winning in Berlin but not threatening his own record, before seeing Kiptum annihilate it two weeks later.
 
Now, while the clock will always matter to Kipchoge, who set a course record in Tokyo in 2022 (2:02:40), his goal must surely be to emerge as the dominant force in this race to launch his Paris campaign from an assured footing.


Kipchoge's challengers

He will be challenged by Vincent Kipkemoi, who ran 2:03:21 in Berlin last year for second place behind Kipchoge, and Timothy Kiplagat (2:03:50, Rotterdam, 2023).
 
Benson Kipruto, while not part of the sub 2:03 club in this lineup, is perhaps the greatest threat in terms of experience. He has won in Boston and Chicago and also been on the Boston podium on another two occasions.
 
Behind these men will be a desperate battle for the third spot in the Japanese Olympic team.
Two athletes, Ichitaka Yamashita and Kenya Sonota, have run the standard with 2:05:51 and 2:05:59 respectively at last year’s Tokyo Marathon, and both line up again this year, while the third spot is occupied by Suguru Osako who ran 2:06:13 in Tokyo in 2023.
 
It will be a nervous watch for Osako as Kengo Suzuki, with a personal best of 2:04:56, takes aim at that mark alongside Kyohei Hosoya and Kazuya Nishiyama, who both have PBs hovering 20 and 30 seconds outside Osako’s time.
 
The presence of Kipchoge and his sub 2:03 compatriots means the front of the race will be quick, and it could well entice one of the home-grown athletes dreaming of Paris to do something special.
 
As ever, in an Olympic year, the plots and subplots will make this a race you cannot take your eyes off.

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